The city’s death toll, 15 higher than previously reported, means that at least 90 deaths are now attributed to Sandy in 10 states.
As the grim discoveries mount, federal, state and local authorities are pressing ahead with efforts to recover from a disaster that keeps pushing up damage estimates — now projected as high as $50 billion.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s focus has shifted from search and rescue to power restoration, floodwater pumping operations, providing basic necessities and reaching out to hard-hit communities, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters Thursday.
The Red Cross has opened more than 100 shelters in nine states and is ramping up feeding operations in New Jersey, Lower Manhattan, Long Island and other places that have no power, said Charley Shimanski, the organization’s senior vice president for disaster services.
“Feeding and shelter is our primary focus,” Shimanski said on a conference call with Fugate. “This is a frustrating time for people. We want people to know we’re doing everything possible.”
Officials said they expect to serve 250,000 to 500,000 meals a day in New York City.
More than 4.6 million homes and businesses along the East Coast remained without power Thursday, down from more than 8 million, news agencies reported.
In New York City, 534,000 customers still had no electricity, compared to 642,000 who had no power at the same time Wednesday, Bloomberg said.
As part of federal efforts to help, the Defense Department is using massive military transport planes to airlift 62 Southern California Edison vehicles and 100 power restoration employees across the country to New York, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Fugate said President Obama has instructed FEMA to cover 100 percent of power restoration and transportation for a 10-day period. He said he is open to the federal government also covering more than the usual 75 percent share of the remaining costs but that it was too early to say whether that would happen.
FEMA has four generators installed and expects to have 70 up and running by the end of Thursday, Fugate said.
Bloomberg said he hoped that electricity would be restored to most schools — many of which double as polling places — before the Nov. 6 elections. But he said election officials would probably have to find alternatives for some schools with transformers in flooded basements. City schools, closed all this week, are scheduled to reopen Monday.
In New Jersey, nearly 1.8 million people were without power Thursday, down from nearly 2.4 million on Wednesday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) told reporters. He said utility crews were coming in from various states, including Ohio, Alabama and Mississippi, to help restore the electrical grid.